A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: sherpaBen

Finally after.....

15 Flights, 6 Trains, Numerous Car Rides, Dozens of Metros, Multiple Trams, A handful of Ferries, 1 Balloon, 1 Horse and 1 Camel ride- we are back on US soil!!

sunny 70 °F

Yesterday we arrived at Washington DC (Dulles Airport) at around 7pm EST via Madrid, Spain. Our amazing journey, though not quite over (Yo says it is not over until we walk in our front door), is back in the "Land of the Free". I cannot tell you how incredible the last few months have truly been. Yona and I have started to take time to reflect and everytime we do it gets better and more rich. We arrived in DC to visit with our dear friends Zanna and David Yardas and their family. Last night as we savored our first home cooked meal in a long time (though we had a few "home cooked meals" on the road they were not the same), Yona and I just began to ramble on and on. We have so much to tell it is overwhelming. I am sure all our friends will get many different versions and ideas all from our experience--and all who have read the blog have already got some. I want to express my great thanks to all the family and friends who read and commented on our blog. We had fun telling the tales and relished in the comments- checking constantly when we posted something new.

On a personal note, this trip has been one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life (just below obviously things like the births of my children). I have learned so much about myself and how the I relate to the world. I am so blessed to have such a brave family and an amazing wife willing to step out of regular life and ride along the edges of the great unknown. As a family we have had our moments- laughing, crying, fighting and loving and every other emotion on the chart. Many times we have been asked if we have become closer? We have all grown in so many ways from this experience and what I believe makes us closer is the shared experience itself--we were all out there together through the ups and down, good and bad, ugly and beautiful....all of it. This bond will live with us forever.

Thanks for coming along!!!!!!!!

Posted by sherpaBen 05:24 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (10)

Boo Hoo

Mother Nature is still the boss!!

semi-overcast 64 °F

Just a quick update--due to the massive volcanic ash cloud we are sadly having to cancel our european leg of the tour. The airport in Hungary is shut down until monday so far and could be longer like other places. I am sure you all know about London. Our worry is that we might get to Hungary but might not get out. Actually it was very hard to change our flights due to the chaos from the volcano. As sad as it makes us, after calling about flights, if we keep a wait and see attitude we might not get out of Istanbul for weeks. Even as I write this the sadness is growing to think that our great adventure is ending, especially like this. You know what they say though--You Can't Mess With Mother Nature!!!!

Posted by sherpaBen 03:59 Archived in Turkey Tagged family_travel Comments (5)

The Trustman Roadshow Rides Again!

Literally!!!

sunny 72 °F

Hello friends and neighbors. Writing here from the beautiful Cappadocia region of Turkey. A few surprises here:
1. How unexplainable the cave houses are without showing pictures-and still hard to believe.
2. The mega tourism this place brings in! It reminds me of Alaska-busloads of camera bearing people dropped here and there for picture taking.

On to the story of the day. After firing our tour guide and driver yesterday (that is another story, but in short we have been on the road and experienced so many different things we don't have time for situations that aren't meeting our needs and we would not suffer through 2 more inadequate days of bad english mixed with lack of knowledge.) We arranged a horseback ride with the "Horse Whisperer" of the region, he supposedly tames wild horses in the area. Yo had been talking about doing this for days, which caused a great amount of worry with Adrian. You see, he has NEVER ridden a horse before, prompting him to panic that Yo will say he has, and he will not know what to do--they ARE big animals. We get to the stable and The Whisperer shows us our horses.
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What I thought going in was, "Well, we will get some nice horses, super mellow ones for the kids and have a little walk around the area." We got horses alright, just not the kind I was thinking. Now I have not rode a horse in about 25 years, but as I said, I was thinking "nice easy horses". It all started when I got on the horse and they said ride her around the corral. She did not quite want to do what I wanted her to and she was throwing her head around like her bit was freaking her out. No problems right? And off we go!!

So we start down the road and neither the kids, Yo, nor I can control the horses at all- they have decided to eat grass along the side of the road and when we try and get them to move, they prance around wildly and head back for the grass. By the way, did I mention that here you don't say "Whoa!" to stop, but just utter different levels of SHHHHH (as in OH S**T).
Here we are, SHUSHING, prancing, and flailing down the road. Poor Adri, bless his brave soul, got up there and tried-they didn't even give him a little lesson on how to ride--and it was hard for us to help him as we were struggling with our animals. He did not have a chance, but he did not freak out, he just couldn't do it. So we asked the guide to lead his horse for him (this is not the end of Adri's story though).
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Continuing down the road, Yona and I start to notice that our horses don't really like each other. Every time we get near each other the horses start to freak out, ears straight back and prancing and juking (also note that Yo has not rode horses in a while, she is holding Po in front of her with one hand and is riding an Australian style saddle with no horn!). Now for Arella--her horse is still interested in eating,(note her in the background of the above picture) and she seems unable to do anything about it( read not pulling hard and letting the horse know who is boss). With this happening, she is continually falling behind. When her horse notices how far behind they are, the horse just runs up to us--mind you Rae has no control over this. This pattern finally culminates in Arella seemingly stuck at the top of a little hill, while her horse continues to graze and then decides to join the group by running down the hill with Arella's arms just flailing in the air with the reins. Tears ensue, and the horse ride is spiraling out of control heading for a quick termination. Yona hollers to the guide and asks if Rae can switch horses with Adri--since the guide is leading Adri, and we assume he was put on the mellowest horse. The switch is made and Rae agrees to continue on (this is not the end of Arella's story though).P1030549.jpg
Arella starts to do better, my horse stops flipping her head wildly, freaking out at the bit, Yona has figured out to stay behind me so our horses don't fight, Adri is being led, and we continue SHUSHING down the road. We actually get in a bit of a groove, when we start to ride by some farms with grapes and budding olive trees. Sounds beautiful right? Well, what you may not know is that Adrian has really bad allergies that lead to migraine headaches and when we had him tested last year the thing he was most allergic to (and I mean off the charts) was olive trees. He starts to sneeze. And sneeze. And sneeze. And........ you get the picture. He must have sneezed 100 times or more in 20 minutes. Soon we are out of the fields, through a little village and up the red valley to the top of a huge old cave house (looks like a hotel). large_P1030534.jpglarge_P1030533.jpglarge_P1030536.jpg
When we get off the horses for a break, poor Adrian's eyes are all swollen and red, his hankie soaked with snot, and he is miserable (this is not the end of Adrian's story though).
We rest and explore the cave house/hotel, then start up again--first walking our horses down the big hill( a good call in my view) and then loading on. As we head through the village streets, we actually have a good groove going and we are feeling good, that is as long as Yona and I keep our horses away from each other which is troublesome sometimes. large_P1030546.jpglarge_P1030545.jpg

Next we come to Love Valley. As I look around, I am thinking, "Is everybody thinking what I am thinking?" Apparently yes, because a few minutes later Yona says, "Do you think they call it Love Valley because all these formations look quite phallic?" I am thinking, "Well they couldn't just call it Dick Valley could they?" large_P1030556.jpg
Finally, we are out of the valleys making our way back to the stables, when Adrian asks if he can have one of the sandwiches? We beg for him to just wait, but he is in an allergic reaction panic and saying he has a headache. We plead with him to just hold out for another half hour, but his desperate sounding pleas keep coming. Finally, we decide to stop because Yo cannot handle the wildness of her horse, while holding onto Po, grab a sandy out of her backpack, and get close enough to A's horse to give it to him. Back to what I said at the beginning, "I thought we would get nice, mellow horses." As we all try to stop, all our horses start to tromp into this farm field of loose dirt. My horse is doing circles, Yo's horse is doing circles and Rae's horse is doing circles--all in the soft dirt. Circles and circles but not stopping. It was comical. Finally the guide gets off his horse, gets Adri off his horse, and grabs Po from Yona, while holding all 3 horses. At this point, we are all a little displeased with Adrian for demanding a sandwich (which by the way has cheese and vegetables in it that we know he is going to dissect and not eat) when the coup de grace happens-We turn to see Arella's horse rolling on the ground. She gets up and stomps away, arms crossed, red faced, trying to hold back tears. Everyone is mad at Adrian, lead by Arella who is in tears. He picks apart half of 2 sandwiches, and all mounted up again, we set off for home. As I said before, it wasn't like these were mellow horses that Yo could just stop and or even get off easily--this was a scene out of a Laurel and Hardy film.
We head for the stable, saddle-soreness is really starting to settle in, and I am thinking, "Note to self-- 2 hour horse tour too short, 4 hour horse tour too long!-OUCH!!!"

We did finish and get our Turkish Tea!! Looking back it was a great adventure and as you have read, a great story. We got to see a lot of the valleys and beautiful places that would have been hard to do on foot and by car in just 4 fun filled hours.
All in all, a great day!!!!!!! And just another episode of the Trustman Roadshow--coming to a town near you!! Anyone up for a little adventure?
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Posted by sherpaBen 03:09 Archived in Turkey Tagged family_travel Comments (9)

I am here.....

Sometimes I have to pinch myself!

semi-overcast 65 °F

Since we first met up with Mehmet and his family Mariposa had been asking everyday, "When do we get to see them again?" Well last Saturday was the day. We took the ferry across the Bosphorus (another form of public transportation here in Istanbul-all forms bus, metro, tram and ferry all cost TL1.50) to Uskador and Mehmet picked us up to go visit his house. The sun was shining and it was warm and beautiful. As I suspected the ferry was a huge thrill for Mariposa and Adrian, specially when they looked in the water and saw hundreds of jelly fish. A short ride across and Mehmet was waiting for us. We drove through Uskador, an older part of the city on the Asian side, and onto the highway. Soon we worked our way out of the city and into the country side. Yona and I felt so good seeing green trees and rolling hills and Mehmet echoed our thoughts saying how good it feels when he heads home from work to leave the city and the stress behind. Their house is about 25 minutes outside the city. Mehmet's girls Zeynep and Irem were excited to see Mariposa and whisked her off to their bedrooms. We enjoyed a nice informal lunch, drank Turkish tea, drank Turkish wine, drank Turkish beer and talked about our travel plans and a myriad of different topics including kids, politics, and travel. The kids played bubbles, fed the ducks at the pond, biked and played video games--it felt like normal life.
Me and Mehmet

Me and Mehmet


Our friend Mehmet!

Our friend Mehmet!


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But of course as in all our adventures it gets better. Mehmet says there is a Polish village down the road called Polonezköy and we can go eat there. The actual translation of Polonezköy is Polish Village--little quirks that I love in other countries. As we drove there Mehmet said we could bar-b-que. I figured sure I love bar-b-que. We came to a place with about 30 outdoor tables, a play area for kids complete with a zip line, and a windmill. Kind of hokey and cute. Soon Mehmet comes back from the main building followed by a guy with raw meat-veal, lamb chops, chicken and lamb shish kebabs, Turkish meatballs and Turkish sausage. Next came the habachi sized grill all hot and ready to go. When Mehmet said bar-b-que he meant bar-b-que- I grabbed the tongs and got busy. As my friend Eddie always says, "Alternate reality button number 17!!" That is where I was- in the Turkish countryside at a Polish village with a bar-b-que delivered to my table and a pile of meat. We cooked, we ate, we drank, we played. Soon Mehmet's close friends Sahap, Gozde and their 12 year old daughter Doga showed up. Doga spoke very good english and had a vibrant personality, quickly making friends with our kids. Actually Arella was talking to someone other than us for the first time on our trip---Yeah!!! We sat and enjoyed the sunset, drinking Turkish tea, drinking Raki(the Turkish special drink-aniseed flavored alcohol) and sharing stories. As it started to get cold, we were getting ready to leave when Doga said to Arella "Do you want to ride with us we are going to my house?" I had no idea that is what we were going to do, but when Mehmet said, "is it ok?" I replied, "absolutely!"- adventure continues!!!
Hello Bar-b-que!

Hello Bar-b-que!


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Oh Yeah!!

Oh Yeah!!


Ayla

Ayla


We drove a short way and we were at Sahap and Gozde's house--a beautiful house on the hills overlooking the city--reminded me of the Oakland hills back home. The sun had just gone down and the view was stunning. Their hospitality was so nice. Soon we were sharing treats, coffee, whiskey, homemade liqueur and Sahap's prideful homemade wines. The kids were up and down the stairs playing, romping, just being kids. The conversation was fun. We laughed about our nights theme of everything being Turkish-even if it wasn't Turkish we would just ad Turkish to the beginning of it and it was Turkish. What fun, warm people we were with--it felt as though we were living here just having a night with family friends--and when we left that is what we realized we had, new family friends! Just another moment that my lucky family has been blessed with on this great adventure of ours.Sahap, Doga and Gozde

Sahap, Doga and Gozde

The Kids

The Kids

Left to right-Emin, Irem, Arella, Adrian, Doga, Posie and Zeynep
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Emin
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Adri getting ready to zip with Emin and Irem
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Posted by sherpaBen 14:41 Archived in Turkey Tagged family_travel Comments (5)

Relaxed in Istanbul

So much so I almost forgot I was here!

semi-overcast 61 °F

Well Colleen left and we have just settled in to Istanbul. Since we have at least another 10 days here we feel in no rush to conquer the city. Our goals each day are easy and relaxed. Yesterday we strolled over to the Pera Museum to see the exhibition on the Hippodrome-for those of you who don't know that is the stadium built by Constantine for the Roman chariot races. When we got to the museum we learned that they were exhibiting the Vollard Suite. The suite of 100 images was named for Picasso's art dealer and publisher, Ambroise Vollard (1867-1939). Picasso made these etchings in between 1930 and 1933. Always a bonus when you see a masters work. Our other goal is to continue to eat the unbelievably good food this city has to offer. The other night Arella baby sat and Yona and I got to go out with my friend Mehmet and his wife Ilay. Mehmet was a foreign exchange student in my high school many years ago. What a treat. Not only was the food great (a fish restaurant where we never saw a menu and Mehmet just conversed with the waiter before every course to decide whats best) but the company was fantastic. It was a delight to rekindle and create new friendships with parents of three in another universe half a world away from home. Lots of laughs, great conversation and our first taste of Raki, the drink of Turkey, an clear aniseed alcohol that when mixed with water turns milky white. Of course we had to take two taxis and a ferry to meet them in another part of town which just added to the greatness of the evening. The break from the kids didn't hurt either.

Yesterday evening we walked our neighborhood, found a cheese shop, had an afternoon beer/tea, ate a great dinner, came home and watched a movie in bed. When I got up to put the kids to bed I felt normal- like I was not in a foreign country on an adventure of a lifetime. Though I like the adventure feeling it was good to be that relaxed. Just another notch in the experience belt. Istanbul is very easy to manage and life here seems pretty good.

Posted by sherpaBen 22:40 Archived in Turkey Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

What is he going to do with that lighter?

Man that was good!!!!

rain 51 °F

Let me start this entry with a little information about our apartment. We are in a 2 story "penthouse" apartment on a small street off of Istiklal Caddesi. Istiklal Caddesi is a big walking street with a sea of people, shops, bars, cafes and reataurants from Taksim Square to Galata Tower This is pretty much the center of town and very cool. The top floor of our apartment is light filled with high ceilings and walls of windows at both ends--this is where the kitchen and living room are. Downstairs has the bedrooms. We have nice views and we over look the soccer field of a high school that my friend Mehmet said is 127 years old and very famous (actually the rival of his high school). This brings me to where this blog entry comes from. To access our apartment we ride in a very small(3 person) elevator that enters directly to our apartment. Now I have been riding this elevator for 3 days now and it is tight. The elevator also has a mirror on the back wall. So every day I am in there looking directly at myself in the mirror and I am looking like a scraggely bear with hair everywhere (I told Michael Cano I would need a haircut in Istanbul--I was right).

Yo, Cooc and Rae went off to the Bazaar today for Cooc's last minute shopping and I had A and Po. We went on a little journey out in the rain and had lunch and what not. Since the rain was increasing I brought them back to our abode and left to go get some fruit. I had spied a barber days before on a exploring mission through the neighborhood so I decided to step into another world- The Man World. Now this was not some old-timer barber but younger hipper looking fellows so I felt comfortable that I would not get a 60's crew cut. Though he spoke very little (when I say very little I mean little) English I was able to say just a trim. The guy next to me understood and fired off some Turkish to which my barber nodded. My guy- aptly named Mehmet- went to town. He cut like a champ. When he broke out the hair dryer I made a motion of panic but he gave me the universal "settle down and let me do it- you will be fine" gesture. He finished the hair and gestured towards the eyebrows. I have inherited my fathers eyebrows that are untamed and really have a mind of their own- one of my hairy enemies in the elevator mirror. I gestured " a little bit". Without hesitation he went for the nose hair--an odd feeling to have someone cut your nose hair, I always felt it was a private thing. Then he grabbed the lighter!?! I was thinking, "What is he going to do with that-he just trimmed my nose hair, this guy is unpredictable!!!" He proceeded to burn the hairs off of my ears!!! I always pull them out or trim them with the electric razor, but burning them was never a thought. He even got the inside ones--I was thinking, "Do I have hair growing out of my ears- that's for old people!"-It made me think of Yona's grampa. As he finished the grooming he asked if I wanted Turkish coffee or tea. I took the former, which by the way is really good. He then gestured if I wanted a shave--at first I was hesitant but figured "what the heck, let's go the distance." The shave, shampoo, face, head and neck message that followed were sublime. I was wishing for this guy to move to Truckee. As all this was happening the guy next to me, who was getting his hair cut when I came in, was getting a mask on his face while the barber was shaving his back and shoulders. He of course asked them to put the shades down before her bared his chest. I was in a Mansalon--I feel good and I smell like a man. When you are away from the comforts of home for such a long stretch you need things to make you feel good and this one hit the nail on the head. By the way the whole thing cost TL35 (Turkish Lira about $22) I tipped him TL10 ($6.50)--in the US this is a $90 haircut!

Posted by sherpaBen 06:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged family_travel Comments (6)

Dogs and Cats

Had we known we would have made each their own photo log!

sunny 58 °F

Good Morning from Istanbul. We are waking up in our apartment today for the first time. Yesterday we moved from our lovely hotel in Sirkeci (pronounced sir-k-ech-y), in the old part of Istanbul by the Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome, across the water to Beyoglu. Beyoglu is the metropolitan part of Istanbul, lots of bars, cafes and small restaurants. The hip zone you might say. The streets are cobbled and very narrow like most old European cities. We have only taken a few jaunts around our apartment but plan on completely exploring the area today. It is a very different feel over here. A lot less touristy, so we don't feel like we are going to get scammed at every corner(our guard is still up though after the run-ins we each had). Our apartment does have a great view of the city and the neighborhood seems good. I look forward to spending the next couple weeks pretending I live in a foreign city.

As for the dogs and cats--India had stray dogs everywhere, I mean everywhere. Istanbul seems to have the opposite-there are stray cats everywhere, I mean everywhere. I will say that the cats seem a little nicer, cleaner and healthier but they are everywhere. I imagined the small rodent population in Istanbul is quite low do the the large feline population.
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Posted by sherpaBen 01:28 Archived in Turkey Tagged family_travel Comments (6)

Turkey Dinner, Turkey Lunch, Turkey Breakfast

Istanbul or Constantinople if your into the old school thing!

overcast 54 °F

Well we made it out of India alive--barely. The 2am wake up and airport scene was typical India--funny. Unfortunately Yo got a fever and super aches when we landed in Istanbul and had to go to the hospital for the day. Good news is all tests were negative and she is getting better by the day. So far we are loving it here--it seems like we are back in civilization. Everybody feels a little more relaxed. The food is so good--there are sweet shops everywhere and everybody makes fresh orange and pomegranate juice. Basically we are just getting back on our feet and feeling better--sickness was hard on us all. Since we decided to leave India early Colleen was able to join us here in Istanbul--such a great bonus for her and us. Nice for her to be in a place with us where we can be more relaxed. Istanbul is a lot bigger than I imagined--17 million people. Very European. I am really grateful that we have been able to take this trip--the experiences have been greater than I could have ever imagined-something we will talk and share about at the dinner table for years and years. I am so proud of my family and there efforts out here on the road--I love them dearly!!!

Posted by sherpaBen 13:06 Archived in Turkey Tagged family_travel Comments (7)

Oh The Trains!

The wonderfully popular mode of travel in India!!!

sunny 90 °F

As we continue to catch up on our stories here on the blog I wanted to talk about the trains. You have heard about the death defying car rides, the camel excursions, the Tuk Tuk zig zagging but what we have failed to mention is the all important very popular train system. I will start from the beginning--we had been in Delhi 2 days and the initial shock of India was still settling in when we had a 6am train out to Jaipur. Actually there was no traffic at 5:30 am in Delhi so it seemed almost mellow (I will mention that Yo had just spent the prior day dying from the Hong Kong hurl and Cooc woke up at midnight just in time to join in on the fun herself). Mellow that is until we got to the train station- even at such an early hour the traffic and melee around the station was what I now know as classic India. So we jump out of our cars groggy and sick, all bags and kids in tow. Finally making our way through the parking lot traffic to the station only to find people sleeping everywhere (sorry I don't have pictures to show, our photographers were in no condition and all hands were full, so you will have to just use your imagination). We hustle through hurrying after Loretta finally getting to our platform and train. It all seems like a blur now and come to think of it, it all felt like a blur then. Onto our AC Chair car we go-load all the luggage onto the racks above and take our seats (sort of like old worn out airplane seats). Yo and Cooc scoot to our 2 window seats and cover their heads in the throws of the sickness misery- and Arella begins to crack (the- it is early, it is dirty, I don't feel good and I am not having any fun tears start to flow). By the way breakfast was included on this journey, which there was no chance in hell any of us were going to eat due to our recent experiences with mass transportation food. A few hours later and its hustle time to get off--only a short stop in Jaipur(about 5-7 minutes). OK that was a weird experience.

Next train experience - Pushkar to Udaipur. This time we have a little more India under our belt and one prior train ride so we are ready for this one. We got to spend the morning in Pushkar so there was no rush for an early morning train-- much better. Death defying car ride to the station and we are ready to get to the platform. Now we purposely thought we were traveling light and even left 2 suitcases in Delhi, but I am still carrying my suitcase on my back and rolling 2 others behind me. This is fine until I have to go up and over to the next platform- the 100lb shrug with a 45lb weight on my back. When we get on the train we find a different seating configuration with half the car facing one way and the other half facing the other way, with a small table in between the 2 rows directly facing each other (great for looking at peoples faces). Yona and I have the seats with the table and my thought was "Thank god I am riding forward and not backwards." For some reason I always get a mild motion sickness on trains-not enough to boot but enough to feel nauseous the whole time-going backwards its worse. The train was supposed to be about 5 hours long. Lots of stops, actually some in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason. When we come to the second to last stop the train sits, and sits, and sits for what seemed like forever. Then out of nowhere we start going backwards (towards the way we came). Are you kidding me--we're already salty from such a long ride with multiple delays and now we are going backwards--what is up???? Loretta informs me that this train actually goes past the place we are going and then goes back--guess what "We are in India man, nothing is impossible!!!!!!!" So the last hour and a half i double up on the nausea and there you go another train ride in India. When we get off Loretta finally asks, "Do you want to get porters( guys in red shirts at every station)" I say, "How much?" She says, "50 rupees each for 2 guys." I say, "Absolutely!" I think.... "Now you tell me it's a little over $1 each to get these guys to carry my bags, why wasn't I informed of this earlier?" One suitcase balanced on their head and one rolling behind, these guys are pros.

Next train ride is the always popular local train from Ranthambhore to Bharatpur. I believe Yona already spoke about the fecal condition on the tracks so I will spare the smelly details. This time there is no AC chair car. We are in the 'Slumdog Millionaire' train complete with bars on the windows and sections with births for seating( triple stacked bunks across from each other on one side, double stacked bunks along the other). Now I am on the outside dealing with the porters and apparently there was a group of Muslims hogging up our zone which Loretta promptly booted along with their luggage (pots, pans and all). We all packed into our zone and the fellows who were booted moved their luggage to their upper bunk across from us leaving them just enough space to sit on either side of said luggage. These same men then proceeded to stare at us the whole ride. This time there were guys going back and forth down the isle selling anything from cold drinks and candy to some kind of chip style munchy to trays of fresh fruit (none of which we would feel comfortable buying). On one side Yo and Po lay together on the lower bunk, Cooc and A on the middle and our luggage on the top bunk. Across from them we lowered the middle bunk and Rae, Loretta and I sat on the lower bunk/now bench. The windows were open, wind blowing through the car, earphones on meandering through whatever song comes through my head and I am having my favorite ride in India- real India!!!

Last but not least is the final train from Agra to Delhi. A night train leaving at 20:45 (that's 8:45pm for you US folk)- an AC chair car just like the beginning complete with dinner that none of us would eat. This ride and train was now run of the mill to us. The story was the station. We had read and been told about the high levels of crime and fraud in Agra- the number one tourist destination due to the Taj Mahal. As we got to our platform through the normal sleeping, begging and stench we noticed a large number of kids (very dirty and scruffy) milling around. Now at this point we are at our wits end with the general filth of India because we have all been sick and it seems everywhere you go all you see is germs (this is part of the emotional toll that these 2 weeks have brought to us). Loretta has warned us to keep a close eye on our stuff because lots of bags are stolen here and it is the young kids who do it. So as we stand there and wait for our (yes you guessed it) delayed train, it feels as if we are being cased by all these young boys, tweens and teenagers who apparently just live there at the station. Not only are we dealing with the harsh realities of these kids lives and there constant begging from us, but I am feeling completely nervous, tense and angry with the feeling of being circled by street urchins just looking for their chance to pounce. I have thought a lot about India and how I would write about it--what I decided is to be honest about how I felt and write the good with the bad. As I have said before the experience is hard to put into words or even imagine for myself. The good, bad and ugly- all of it. What I do know is that I do not regret coming here one bit and the experience is something I and I am sure my family will never forget--the stories will be told for many years and with many details all a part of my history and wisdom.

"And that's pretty much all I can say about that." ---Forrest Gump

Posted by sherpaBen 13:05 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (6)

"That's India For You."

"This is India man, nothing is impossible!"

sunny 85 °F

Well, these are the quotes that I will remember for the rest of my life.
The other day when we visited the Hussein family for lunch, I had the misfortune of stepping in the open sewer trough when I got out of the Tuk Tuk. A horrible feeling--luckily it was only the front of my shoe which is leather. Loretta asked Mr. Hussein if I could wash it off. As in every hotel, Mr. Hussein had a faucet at foot level for foot cleaning. I washed and Yo said to get the bottom because she was worried it would get on the floor. I went to rewash some more and he stopped me and exclaimed, "This is India man, nothing is impossible!" It was the way he said it that made me feel at home.
This place is crazy-anything can happen-nothing is unexpected. The lunch and his hospitality that followed were incredible. He sat and dished us up, refilling our plates saying "more, more". In India it is customary for the host to serve the guests and eat after the guest leaves. I was full, especially after the rice pudding dessert ( my favorite--he made me eat 6 bowls.)
All the kids from the neighborhood came and we all played games, laughed, the girls got henna tattoos from the older daughters, even the mothers were in the room smiling and laughing with all of us. Truly a life experience for my family that was priceless and will last forever.
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Playing games with the kids!
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Our host!
The first quote was by Loretta as we walked across the bridge on our way to a show and dinner. The bridge is a walking bridge about the width of a sidewalk and a half. Halfway across there were 3 cows all laying down blocking the path--and they were not moving. We had to single file along the railing-this is when she turns to me and says "That's India for you!" Perfect--and at this point, not shocking or out of the ordinary--just accepted as what is.
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Posted by sherpaBen 05:28 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

Brown Sugar

I thought brown sugar was regular sugar with molasses?

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Brown sugar—that is what the driver kept pointing and saying. Of course, I was wearing my “stupid” American hat and thinking “I thought brown sugar was sugar with molasses—these plants are totally different?” Then he said “Brown Sugar- drugs” What we were driving by was fields of poppies that produce opium. The driver then told me the government gives them a permit to grow it.
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The next evening in Bijaipur we went on a village safari. I personally feel uncomfortable when we do these types of things because here we are “rich Americans” being paraded around these poor villages- for some reason it does not feel right for me. This time we stopped and a whole flock of kids followed us through the village. Yona was surrounded by little villagers, some in dirty and shoddy clothes, with her camera around her neck. The kids are so sweet though and so happy to see us.
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Monte

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Monte our guide took us to meet a farmer who was growing the said poppies. He and his family sleep in the fields on a patch of concrete and tile with a little shade over it. They do this to guard the pricey crops. The government gives them a permit to grow and requires 15 kilos per plot for which they pay the farmer Rs(rupees) 1000-1500 per/kilo. Monte said if the farmer has extra, which he usually does, he sells it on the black market for Rs 50,000-90,000. The farmer showed us how they harvest the opium. They take a little fork-like knife and scrape the bulb—12 hours later, the secreted juice is pure black opium.
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They then scrape that off with a knife and put it in a pot. We saw fields upon fields of this during the last few days on our many 3hr drives through the heart of Rajastan. As we left the farm, the farmer gave Monte a little bit on some paper – Monte said “It's good for diarrhea .”
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I am sure he was telling the truth (wink ,wink).

After the village tour we ate dinner at the Intrepid (tour co.) luxury camp spot. It was on a lake-that was dried up from the drought of course. Monte said it was the first time it was dried in 830 years. The tents had furniture, bathrooms, and electricity—not quite roughing it. We drank delicious masala chai under the stars and ate a nice meal. On the ride back they took off the cover of the jeep and Monte had a guy with a spotlight searching for panthers as we crept along. We drove slowly looking for the lit up eyes reflecting the beam of the light. We were full of anticipation. Soon enough we hit the jackpot and saw a hyena. He was big. Monte told us to be quiet and then he started to make goat and cow sounds. It worked and the hyena would stop and look, eventually walking toward us. As this was happening, we also spied a small fox. We were sure the hyena was after the fox, but when we distracted the big dog, the little one silently scampered off—it was cool. Though we did not see a panther (actually we only saw a jackal after that) it was fun.
This morning another 3hr ride to Bundi. Hot, dry, desert was all I saw. In Bundi, we went to another city palace. This one was built on a hill and looked like something from Harry Potter. The palace was overrun by Macaque monkeys and our guide told us to beware and not make eye contact with them—I said “or they will ask you for money!!” Afterward we walked through the old town and new town back to the guesthouse. This was not the tourist India of the last few cities—this was the dirty, smelly, busy real India—and here I am walking the streets with my 4 year old on my hand—a real shocking reality. I wonder what Po really thinks? We are all battle fatigued-Yo is out in bed fighting a nasty head/sinus cold and Cooc’s stomach is not well—the big kids are in the “Yeah, another city palace (in most sarcastic 13 year old voice)” mode and it is really hot out. India is not easy travel on the mind and on the body, but it is an experience that cannot be understood through pictures, movies or books—one my family will never forget.

Posted by sherpaBen 05:13 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (4)

Just a minute to post..

Hello all--I am doind some business in an internet cafe and only have a moment to post. We are in Pushkar riding camels and drinking chai--you know just everyday normal stuff. It is very mellow here-not blaring car horns all day long. Our hotel does not have internet so we cannot post so regular but I promise when we get a chance the pictures will be spectacular. We are all feeling better and really enjoying ourselves. Much love to everyone.

Posted by sherpaBen 23:10 Comments (9)

Our fearless leader goes down...

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Well the bug has got everyone. Yona woke this morning with the same thing we all had. She suffered through a tough day, transferring hotels through traffic and meeting our tour guide. She is trying to rest before we leave at 5am to catch a 6am train to Jaipur. I am sure she will pull through. Meanwhile we went on a little sightseeing tour this afternoon to a crafts museum. The textiles were truly amazing and we all felt so sad that Yo missed it since that is her favorite thing. It was nice because we came to the part of Delhi where the government offices were--it was actually green-tree lined streets and grass-a nice change from what we have termed the jungle. It truly is a jungle out there. I thought China's infrastructure was a bit rundown, but this is unbelievable, unexplainable. We haven't really taken many pictures yet but we will soon upload when the sickness settles.

Posted by sherpaBen 05:39 Archived in India Comments (8)

The Lost Days!

What day is it--matter of fact what city are we in?

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Well we made it to Delhi from China. Somewhere between it seems we stopped in Hong Kong (Though technically China posses HK- it is still treated as its own place and rightfully so-China is smart to think if it isn't broke don't fix it, from what I saw in the rest of China). Hong Kong is a fully developed international metropolitan city like Tokyo or New York - not like Beijing ( but they are trying hard to get there). The kids and I wouldn't really know because we spent the better part of our time there in the fetal position hoping for the stomach bug to pass. Of course just when we are flying to Delhi, about 2 hours before arrival, Po decided to get in on the fun!! Luckily Yo and I were pros at this, we had a flight to Hawaii with the older kids that was similar when she was pregnant with Po. Upon arrival well lets just say "culture shock" does not quite sum it up. We thought China was crazy--I think this is going to be out of mind. Colleen met us at the airport so now instead of reading the blog she will be living the blog, and it looks like our tour will definitely live up to the standards that we have already set. Today we rest and recoup , nursing everyone back to health and planning the rest of our whirlwind tour around this country. The good thing is that Yo and I both said to each other that we have an air of excitement about being here--we are someplace completely new. And for me I feel that the fear of being out in the ether is gone. Just stay happy and enjoy the ride, be quick to forgive and forget and don't sweat the small stuff--wait I think I am turning into Tony Robbins. Actually, though I am having the trip of a lifetime I could use a night or two in my own bed, house and mountains-And every time we skype Val and Buff they are cooking dinner-ouch!! I could use a mexican feast/ bar-b-que like nobodies business. It is going to be an unbelievable week of feasts and celebration when we get back. I do have some amazing Indian feasts awaiting me and the colors and culture will be unforgettable!!!

Posted by sherpaBen 22:02 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Shangri La

Well not really sure?

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Here we are in our ceturies old house coverted to a hotel and restaurant, the smell of MSG wafting up to our deck overlooking the courtyard. We would not be sitting here if they had not enclosed the whole thing with corrugated clear plastic panels (reminds me of the "man room" at the Uplands house) creating a greenhouse effect-the temp here is probably close to 42-45. We are all bloated from the MSG from the last few weeks-the smell is now unmistakable and we all cringe at it. The drive in was beautiful. We are on the edge of Tibet. Yaks crossing the street and large Tibetan designed houses with prayer flags flying and a little tree on top of the roofs. I say not sure if it isShangri La because that is what the local govt changed the name to proclaiming it the place that James Hilton wrote about in the novel Lost Horizon. Many other places nearby argue that they are the place but this town has put the bank on it. Tomorrow we visit one of China's oldest monastaries. It is beautiful country up here-we have definitely seen many different angles of China. One thing is for sure though- Yo and I are both ready for Indian food!

Posted by sherpaBen 02:32 Archived in China Comments (4)

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